Brexit silver lining for the UK: A more organisationally competent populace

, by Juuso Järviniemi

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Brexit silver lining for the UK: A more organisationally competent populace
Volunteer engaging with members of the public at the Edinburgh Rally for Europe in October 2017. Photo: Alexandra Person.

In the aftermath of the British EU referendum of 2016, the UK has developed the strongest and most vibrant pro-European grassroots movement in Europe. From Cornwall for Europe to Highlands for Europe, volunteer-run campaign groups have sprung up and gained strength in the past two years. Millions of Brits have taken action against Brexit, as the Revoke Article 50 petition attests. Brexit has inspired countless of Brits to participate in civic life like never before.

When the public learns by doing

Nothing can be a better motivation to learn than a cause you believe in. The campaign culture that has developed around the fight against Brexit is rich. All conceivable tools have been mobilised for the cause, from petitions to protests, campaign buses, letters to MPs, all manner of social media campaigns, marches, street actions and costumes. Campaigners learn from each other in volunteer-run coordination groups on Facebook and test their skills when engaging with local campaign groups.

In the last three years, countless of Brits have made space for essential campaign equipment such as flags and leaflets in their homes. When hundreds if not thousands of citizens learn how to set up an outdoor stall, or gain experience from running a political campaign channel on social media or from arranging a small-scale demonstration, a country’s democratic life is strengthened.

The labyrinth that Brexit legislation has gone through in the UK Parliament has taught interested citizens about the British political system in more detail than any school module could. T-J Marsden, who has been a leading organiser in Edinburgh since 2017, points to Google search trends: ‘Prorogue, the obscure parliamentary process, went for years with a handful of searches and then suddenly the hits exploded as everyone decided they need to know’.

Democracy by the people, not just for the people

Brexit-supporting politicians and Prime Minister Theresa May have often repeated that the idea of reversing the three-year-old referendum result would undermine British citizens’ faith in democracy. To the contrary, the campaign to stay in the EU has done a great, deep service to British democracy.

The campaign has taught people how to participate. In the process, some think it has even reminded Brits about the fundamental nature of democracy.

“The very limited silver lining is that parts of Britain are starting to get to the point where the idea of democracy is that it’s done by the people, organised bottom-up rather than top-down”, T-J Marsden says. “A lot of people have got involved and found out that actually, community-level organisation isn’t actually all that complex and that politics only seems completely impenetrable because it’s been dressed up that way.”

The country’s inhabitants now spend more of their spare time on volunteering. The transferable skills acquired when campaigning – written and verbal communication, event organising, teamwork, the range of practical skills from basic graphic design to the art of storing and transporting campaign materials may indeed help Brits be more productive and creative in their day jobs, too.

No matter what the outcome of the Brexit process is, the British economy and social fabric will emerge from it scathed. On the contrary, the years-long Brexit rollercoaster has made British people as individuals stronger, more skilled and more ready to mobilise when needed.

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